The Naughty List

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
The Naughty List Book Poster Image
Goofy humor, warm heart in wild holiday romp.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Methods for dealing with bullies are put to use.

Positive Messages

You matter, and what you do can make a powerful difference -- even when you feel insignificant. Feeling grumpy and depressed doesn't have to sour your relationships and your affection for others. Even if you aren't in a holiday mood, you can appreciate other people's enjoyment of the season. Family is a precious gift.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Bobbie loves her brother and wants him to have a magical Christmas, even if she's grumpy about the holiday. Adults are caring and engaged, including Bobbie's parents, her daffy uncle, and a police officer who finds her on the street on Christmas Eve.

Violence & Scariness

Christmas cannons shoot tangled holiday lights, missile-toes blast flaming Yule logs, avenging snow angels have a deadly touch, and more cartoon peril.

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Naughty List, by Michael Fry (Over the Hedge, The Odd Squad) and Bradley Jackson, is an irreverent kid-saves-Christmas tale that combines a heartfelt message with fart jokes. This Santa is asthmatic, cranky, and sulking in his trailer after ceding control of the North Pole to a mechanical monster. Magic smells like refried beans, furious snow angels seek revenge for being abandoned by children, and Frosty is a tough general. But beneath the frivolity is a warm story about family, growing up, and dealing with moral ambiguity.

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What's the story?

After a run-in with an inflatable Santa leads to a broken arm, embittered, black-clad Bobbie Mendoza decides Christmas is bullying her -- so she's going to ignore it. But she still wants her younger brother, Tad, to have a magical holiday, even though they miss their father, who's off working in North Dakota. Her attempt to get her brother a coveted gift goes awry, landing him on the Naughty List. To save Christmas for him -- and everyone -- Bobbie goes on a wild journey to the North Pole, evading robo-narwhals, a candy cane reef, a figgy pudding swamp, and more. Her only hope is to disable Santa's mechanical Watcher, which has put so many children on the Naughty List the world is running out of Christmas cheer.

Is it any good?

Kids will be drawn in by the fart jokes and hyperactive plot twists, but this book's kindly message -- celebrating family and joy -- leaves a strong impression. Naughty or nice isn't always an easy call to make; there's a difference between observing and really seeing, as co-authors Michael Fry and Bradley Jackson make clear. Boiled down, their comic novel sticks to a familiar holiday setup: Holiday cheer is in steep decline, and the fate of Christmas depends on one child. But Jackson and Fry shred sentimental convention, making the North Pole stinky from magic (which smells like refried beans) and populating it with outlandish creatures: commando seals, vengeful snow angels, missile-toes, and a snowman armed with a hair dryer.

Jackson's line drawings, evocative of Berkeley Breathed's style, pepper the pages, making up for the sometimes whipsawing plot. Fusing it all together is Bobbie's love for her family: missing her absent dad, leaning on her supportive mother, cherishing her brother's enthusiasm for Christmas, and discovering another side to her eccentric uncle.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about watching vs. seeing. Have you ever been wrongly judged because someone didn't see the whole picture?

  • Why do you think kids saving Christmas is such a popular theme? What other books or movies have you read or seen that have this theme?

  • What does Bobbie mean when she says, "Naughty is sometimes nice, and nice is sometimes naughty"? How do you tell the difference?

Book details

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